Digital leadership: 7 Basic behaviors to succeed
Santiago G. Ponce.
Another day at home, another day at the office. After a year of working remotely, we’ve all changed somehow our routines and even our home’s settings. A year ago, when the first wave of COVID-19 hit Europe, we shared an article (https://www.marevest.com/publication-telework/) about the potential impacts of working remotely, the crucial role of management’s mindset and behavior, and its harmonization with the organization’s processes and structure.
Since our last article, we’ve collected different experiences and fresh scientific evidence that point out the benefits and challenges of remote working. Our goal is to provide you guidance on how you as a manager can contribute to making the best out of working from home, for yourself and your team.
The adoption of telework could translate into significant long-term changes. Besides the expected impact on the working environment, leadership practices, organizational culture (among others), remote working could also substantially change the urban-rural gradient, city planning, and new working-related laws. But don’t worry, we won’t go so far in this article. As you already have experienced, we think it’s important to highlight that working from home is much more complex than merely using new software for video conferences.
Show me the facts
Research conducted by Parker, Knight, and Keller (2020) and published in Harvard Business Review (HBR) points out that managers are struggling with their redefined roles and will surely benefit from more support. Besides, a better quality of management would enhance remote workers’ wellbeing and performance. This research also found out that “about 40% of the 215 supervisors and managers expressed low self-confidence in their abilities to manage workers remotely.” Additionally, “Thirty-eight percent of managers agreed that remote workers usually perform worse than those who work from the office, with 22% being unsure.” Additionally, this study reflected a shared concern about the long-term motivation of employees.
The leadership style and the organizational culture play a substantial role in adopting remote work. The same research mentioned above highlighted that working environments with low job autonomy and a high mistrust level led to overall poor performance.
On the one hand, it seems that telework threats to outcompete more traditional leadership styles. On the other hand, it is also clear that from a business perspective, it offers financial benefits associated with lower unit fixed-cost, the opportunity to attract talent from all over the world, and more agile practices. Besides these benefits, one can contemplate an improvement on some HR’s KPIs, such as the decrease of sick days.
However, it’s not only about the economics of remote work. Prof. Leslie Willcocks highlighted the importance of critical moderating social factors, such as social responsibility and legislation issues, and impact on firms’ broader culture. In other words, how external factors will modify the organizations’ environment.
The HBR study also included the employee’s perspective, where “Several employees also experienced a strong sense that their supervisors do not trust their ability to do the work without supervision at home. Thirty-four percent agreed that their supervisors expressed a lack of confidence in their work skills.”
The clock is ticking! At the beginning of 2020, remote working seemed to be rather temporal until “things go back to normal.” Now, it is turning into a long-term plan for several employers. While some companies already decided to move to smaller offices, reduce fixed costs, and promote an agile and result-oriented culture, other enterprises are still struggling in managing from distance people and workload. What’s the difference?
Making the difference
There are vital aspects that contribute to an efficient adoption of remote work: the organization members’ individual and collective mindset and how they behave. When we talk about the mindset, we mean: how we see the world, how we think and feel, what we believe in, what values and attitudes we have.
In some paragraphs above, we’ve seen how micromanagement hurts the ability to implement remote work efficiently. The reason? Self-confidence, beliefs, and trust. These elements resonate pretty much with people’s mindsets. In the past and still today, people in organizations rely on hierarchical structures, reflected in a mindset focused on control, neglecting trust and autonomy.
In contrast, for quite some time, software companies have been working on novel organizational structures rooted in the idea of agility, heterarchy, and self-organizing. Here the mindset is entirely different. Examples like Google might resonate with you, and it works in these types of organizations because of the economic activity but fundamentally because of their mindset.
However, there will be more time in other articles to talk about these organizational topics. Right now, let’s focus on the importance of your mindset in shaping organizational dynamics. Suppose you’re managing a small firm, and you think these topics are meant just for big corporations. In that case, we encourage you to keep in mind that maybe these firms have succeeded because they’ve understood the importance of building a robust individual mindset and corporate culture.
How do we think? What do we believe in? These questions are just one side of the coin. The other side? Well, it is how we behave in the organization and how these behaviors reflect our mindset, are the key to success.
Leading by example
The mindset we talk about manifests in seven behavioral habits.
As a leader, developing and putting into practice this set of behavior would set the basics to reinforce understanding and trust. Believing in people and the organization’s purpose is an invaluable asset.
These behaviors also benefit the overall communication implementing new routines such as telework thrive.
Let’s take a look at the seven basic behaviors and their underlying mindset:
- Accept remote working as a new reality and not as a short-term measure for crisis management.
- Openly listen to, accept, examine, and courageously implement your employees’ experiences and suggestions – this can be on probation at first. What is proven will be maintained. What does not work -shall change.
- Open communication becomes even more critical to ensure that we work as a team. Your communication must be the glue that replaces the live interactions at the office.
- Reinforce open communication with short and efficient calls. Like the “stand up meetings” in SCRUM, aim for not going beyond the 15 minutes. These meetings could be about the business situation, opportunities and risks, expectations, goals, plans, and future intentions.
- The new reality is the opportunity, not a threat.
- Results are what matter, not your control.
- Openly admit and address your concerns about the functioning of the new reality.
- Admit that “I don’t know all the answers, and I don’t know all the solutions.”
- Concentration and attention in video calls – turn off and avoid all distractions. The limited contact time makes it even more essential to make the most of this resource.
- Listen to employees even more attentively – summarizing their words, questions, and concerns to make sure everything is understood. In the home office, your employees have even fewer opportunities to get rid of their worries.
- Aim to increase quality of interactions. This means to talk about non-working-related issues only. Informal communication is a powerful bond and generates more proximity. If you have the chance, take advantage of face-to-face meetings.
- The success of remote working depends primarily on “me as a leader – on my words and deeds.”
- The more reliability and commitment is role modeled by me, the more employees will follow this example.
- Aim for “retrospective meetings.” The SCRUM method uses the retrospective meeting focus on the team performance at the end of each milestone/objective. Offer the team the chance to reflect on three fundamental questions:
- What worked well? (Always highlighting the success!)
- What did not work well? (Focus on your area of influence – what you can change)
- What can be improved? (Decide one or two items from the previous question to focus on)
- Control must be replaced by motivation.
- Lead or look for support for a change management project towards working based on objectives/results instead of giving detailed instructions.
- Demonstrate in your words and behavior why things matter to you.
- Set clear goals and ensure that the employees understand the goals’ meaning and purpose – for themselves and the company.
- Tell people that the agreed goals are the most important yardstick for their priorities.
- In video calls, focus on the essential topics you’ve collected in advance on a list – you do not have the opportunity to contact employees directly with each new idea.
- Draw up a concise list of priorities for the days you can meet your team face to face to make the best use of this rare opportunity.
- Integrate the 80/20 and 70/20/10 “Google” rule.
- Regularly track progress together with your team! It helps to focus on the critical milestones and motivates people offering clarity and guidance. You can choose different options such as information radiator, task boards, and burndown charts.
- Plan and communicate the regular video calls with your team in the long term. The scheduled appointments are respected, and occasionally unavoidable changes should be communicated as early as possible. Start on time and finish the call on time.
- Lead with clear and realistic deadlines and possible delays should be discussed in every contact.
- Be a role model in creating “Islands of Undisturbed Time” in the home office, where you can fully concentrate on your priorities
- Ensure that you and your employees take enough time away from work-related issues and recharge their emotional & physical battery in the home office setup.
The context demands a change, and managers and employees need support from specialists to cope with the changing environment. Remote work is just the tip of the iceberg. Its successful application could lead to gaining a competitive advantage instead of getting outcompeted. Leading by example on the mentioned behaviors will enable you and your team to facilitate the transition to a new way of leading to success.
We will provide more insights into the seven basic behaviors in further publications. Stay tuned!